Monday, November 24, 2008

30 Stunned Turtles Stranded on Cape Cod Shore

Chris Boardman

WELLFLEET - Cold air temperatures and still-warm offshore water temperatures over the weekend stunned and stranded at least 30 turtles on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, including a 60-pound loggerhead, according to officials with the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The annual turtle stranding season, which lasts from shortly before Halloween until Christmas, is in full swing, Dennis Murley, teacher and naturalist at the sanctuary, said this morning. There have been 42 stranded sea turtles reported to the sanctuary so far this season, he said.

Video: Stunned turtles packed for transport in Wellfleet

The number of turtles found by volunteers and staff over the weekend is not unheard of, but a cold snap combined with still-warm offshore waters in the bay have made for a potentially lethal mix that has stunned a large number of different species that would not normally be found together, he said.

While many of the turtles may die from the experience, those that survive until they can be driven to the New England Aquarium in Boston have about a 80 to 90 percent chance of survival, Murley said. Most of these turtles were found in Brewster.

"Hopefully this is a once in a lifetime trip," Murley said.

At the sanctuary this morning Murley and field assistant Emily Goczalk boxed up three live green and Kemp's Ridley turtles in banana boxes - donated by Stop and Shop in Orleans - for the ride to Boston. In another box four not-so-lucky turtles were being shipped so that researchers could perform necropsies on the roughly foot-long animals.

Another staff member, science coordinator Mark Faherty, stacked the boxes in his car for the trip to Boston.

The larger loggerhead turtle was being kept at the Wellfleet sanctuary until it could be determined whether it was alive or dead, not always an easy task with turtles, sanctuary officials said.

Although this year's strandings are not unusual, the number of turtles found on area beaches appears to be on the rise, Murley said. The increasing numbers are actually a good sign, he said, adding that it could be proof of efforts to protect the turtles' nesting beaches in southern climates.

Most Kemp's Ridley turtles - 95 percent - are born on a single beach in Mexico, Goczalk said. The Kemp's Ridley turtles are the most critically endangered sea turtle, although all seven species are on the federal endangered species list, she said.

Anyone who finds a sea turtle stranded on a beach at this time of year should move it above the high tide line and cover it with eel grass or beach grass, Murley said. A marker such as a lobster buoy should be placed near the turtle and the location should be noted, he said. The sanctuary can be contacted at 508-349-2615.


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